College Vegetarianism 101
Being vegetarian in college is not always easy, but despite the obstacles that may arise, it is still very possible to stay true to you dietary convictions while living on your own at school.
by Meghan Fitzpatrick
With two years of college already under my belt, and anxiously awaiting the beginning of my third, each year I have had extremely different experiences, although both had favorable (and flavorful!) outcomes. My first year, I attended New York University as an eager and enthusiastic nutrition major. Since my dorm style included its very own microscopic kitchen, I opted for the smallest meal plan option so that I wouldn't always have to cook and could rely on the convenience of a dining hall. Well, that lasted about a week. Despite the university's touting of its meal plan as very vegetarian-friendly, I was unaccustomed to being presented with food without knowing exactly how it was made, or more importantly, what was in it. At home I always cook my own meals and I am a self-proclaimed picky eater. Although the soup and lettuce I managed to sustain off of were good, I decided my money was better spent on items I would actually eat. Of course, this meant I would be cooking for myself, which was, for a while, very exciting. I felt almost all grown-up as I trudged 20+ blocks to Whole Foods and stopped at the fruit vendors on my way to class.
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Unfortunately, my roommates were not pleased with the whirring of my blender before class as I made smoothies or the freezer being inconceivably stuffed with various frozen dinners and fake meat products, nor was I for that matter with their borrowing of my pots and pans to cook - gasp! - Spam. But something very interesting occurs as thousands of nervous freshman converge on a college or university like South University Virginia Beach. Everybody inevitably ends up meeting such a vast array of people in the first few days at various events and socials, but some characteristics and qualities of others make you connect instantly. One of my first nights, I met a few other vegetarians who were braving the world of academia - usually by the way of meeting someone else who would say "Oh! You're a vegetarian! So is so-and-so, s/he is right over there." People must know we vegetarians like to stick together! It was through this network that I found the health food stores (closer ones) and the amazing falafel place just a few minutes from my building. This year became one in which I immersed myself in many of the vegetarian offerings lower Manhattan had to offer. My days off, I walked around studying menus of restaurants and shelves of co-ops and health food stores. I even mustered up the courage to go out to eat by myself at some of these restaurants. Although it was an expensive year (it was NYC after all), I had a great time. I learned new recipes, new foods, met new friends, and most importantly, discovered how I could handle myself on my own.
But change is always happening. My sophomore year I transferred to Cornell University - I'm still trying to convince my parents that its proximity to Moosewood Restaurant had nothing to do with it! Well, maybe it did a tiny bit. But anyway, I continued to meet many more people who were interested in vegetarianism. I found a vegetarian club and attended lectures on the topic. I was learning so much, and through my class on Vegetarian Nutrition, taught by T. Colin Campbell, I became even more dedicated to vegetarianism. I routinely spoke with dining hall directors and chefs, asking if they could offer certain products or if they could make me something vegetarian at meals. This is how I had some of the best stir-fried veggies with tofu, which made all my friends jealous!
My second semester, I decided to become vegan. I had tried veganism for two weeks before my sophomore year, but the lure of Cornell's own ice cream proved to be overpowering. My discovery of their sorbet made me feel better though, and this second attempt has persisted and I'm determined to not go back. During this year, I even influenced some of my friends to try vegetarianism, or at least some of my vegan foods - the vegan cookies and my homemade vegan apple pie were some of the favorites.
Overall, I have found vegetarianism, even veganism, not to be especially difficult while at college. All it takes is some thinking about what to eat, and you have to know that if you speak up and ask for something, people won't mind at all. I do have a few suggestions for those who may still be a bit wary:
Good luck and good eating! It is possible!
- Keep some healthy and veg-friendly snacks on hand to ward off the temptation to indulge in those omnipresent late night pizzas or buffalo wings. Vegan cookies and individual bottles of chocolate soymilk helped me during those late nights (which I still have a lot more of, I'm sure!).
- Get to know your dining hall directors. They are usually around during meals, or you can schedule an appointment. I met with some of these people to discuss ways to make the dining halls more vegetarian friendly. For example, I requested that the dining hall offer soymilk, and for portobello mushrooms at the grill. I also asked them to check the ingredients of the entrees more closely so that their labeling of items ("V" for vegetarian and "VN" for vegan) were more accurate. To my surprise, they kindly honored all of these requests.
- Don't be afraid to ask for something special! If the vegetable lo mein has oyster sauce in it, ask if they can make some separately, or ask if they can make a cheeseless pizza, then pile it with veggies yourself. The chefs are usually very accommodating and happy to break the monotony with a little something different!
- Be creative! The rice from one part of the dining hall can be combined with tofu and beans from the salad bar along with some salsa by the condiments - just because they aren't together on the menu doesn't mean you can't make them be that way! Microwaved fruit topped with granola is also good if you're craving something sweet.